I spent the last week in Florida and it was incredible! It was rejuvenating and the perfect way to relax before the craziness of wedding season fully sets in. Do you remember how I told you awhile back that I want to be a lifelong learner? (If not, that’s ok! Click here.) Despite that my brain was in full vacation mode, I still had the opportunity to practice what I preach. I learned something that has changed the way I think, and it was all really something simple that set this domino effect in motion — a paradigm shift of sorts, at least for me.

Let me back up a little bit. I spent the last week traveling with my good friend Nimo. We’re both originally from Africa, immigrants here to America. We share the same skin color (though mine is darker than hers) and the same religion. We met in college and I love this lady! Nimo and I had such a fun time visiting Disney World, beach hopping and inevitably eating our way through Florida.

Nice or Friendly?

If you know anything about me, it’s that if you’re a stranger, it’s not for long. I make friends everywhere I go. I love people, talking to them, listening to their stories and interacting. After all, the best way to learn is through someone else, right? So on vacation, I’m doing my thing, talking to strangers, engaging people with questions about life when my friend tells me I’m “too friendly.” Don’t get me wrong. I love Nimo for saying this because it changed my perspective. I enjoy being nice, but being nice and being friendly are different, she explained. Being nice is allowing someone to sit in an empty seat beside you. Being friendly is not only letting them sit there, but smiling and having a conversation with the person for no reason.

Meriam Webster defines “nice” as pleasing or agreeable and “friendly” as befitting a friend, such as showing kindly interest or goodwill. Basically “When you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” (Dolly Parton) That makes total sense, but I had never thought of it like that. Being nice does not make you friendly, and vice versa. You can be a great person and not want to be friends with every person you see. But here’s the thing, I want to. Whether it’s my personality, something I was born with or something I’ve developed over time, I want to be nice AND friendly.

We’re Different But the Same

While Nimo and I had fun in The Sunshine State, we also had our share of gawking and snide comments. It comes with the territory when you’re different. I’m not saying that it’s right, it’s just how it is. While Nimo and I are both Muslim, she wears the traditional hijab (headscarf). We’re walking along the beach when someone pulls his car over just to ask if she’s  with“Isis.” This random guy asked my friend if she was a terrorist because she was in full dress. And as the week progressed, I noticed that we were getting a lot of stares. While I have my own struggles with being a black woman, I don’t usually feel the ignorance toward Muslims because I don’t “wear” my religion. 

How can we be happy friendly when interacting with people who see us and see stereotypes of “black” and “Muslim”? I kept circling back to this idea of nice versus friendly and I think that by being friendly, you will always come out on top. By saying hello, offering a sincere compliment or having a conversation with a stranger, you may plant a seed that wasn’t there before. And as it goes with seeds, they will grow and spread, and maybe, eventually, we can help bridge the stereotypes.

Changing Minds, Hearts

Perhaps people will slowly begin to think that black people aren’t scary. Maybe when people look at my friend wearing a hijab, they won’t think “terrorist.” And maybe we will be able to look at each other and look past our skin color, clothing and religion to see another person doing the best she can. Maybe people will tell their children that we’re not that different after all. We are all human and we all deserve to be treated with respect, kindness and humility. We all deserve friendliness.

By being friendly, we can connect with people on a more human level.

This past week in Florida has been inspiring. I feel so lucky to have people like Nimo, and be surrounded by people from all walks of life who challenge me to think on a different level. My friends  teach me how to be a good person, show me how to be loving and help me stay educated and woke. They shape my world in such a positive way that I can only be grateful. I guess all that’s left to do is talk to the next stranger!   

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On wedding day, one of the most fun, laid back parts of the day is the reception. I mean, it makes sense. The hard part is over. The months or years you spent planning has come to fruition and you created this day that rivaled your childhood wedding fantasies. Win! You got ready, looked amazing, knocked out those vows, killed it in the pictures and now here you are, the reception — time to celebrate!

In an effort to save time or money on photography, some couples forget that the reception is an important part of the day. They get almost to marathon finish line — they run 26 miles and then, that last two-tenths of a mile, they call it quits with photography. The couple asks the photographer to leave after the cake is cut and the formal dances are finished.

Your Wedding Story

I get it. I do! But in terms of your wedding story, the reception is “the end.” You have the beginning, with getting ready. Emotions are high. People are excited and nervous. Then you have the ceremony, the reason everyone has gathered. It’s the most serious, intense part of the day, which turns into more emotions. That nervousness then turns into this intense joy, which carries over to the reception.  At the end of the day, your friends and family can let their guard down. The nervousness and stress of the day melts and it’s time to celebrate you. This is the final hoorah.

When couples are planning their photography timeline, I always encourage them to think about the kind of photos they want. Nine times out of 10, couples say they want candid photos. There is no better place for candid photos than the reception. This holds true for the bride and groom, the wedding party, parents and guests. People are having fun. Parents are getting down on the dance floor, looking more in love than ever. The people you worked so hard to create this wedding for are having an amazing time… even if they can’t really dance.  

When It’s Over. . .

When it’s all said and done and couples see their photos for the first time, there are two very consistent emotions. As the bride sees the ceremony photos, there are usually tears. Together, when the couple sees the reception photos, there’s usually quite a bit of laughing, hysterical laughing. Guests are relaxing, clearly enjoying the celebratory part of the day.

In the wedding story, getting ready is the beginning, the ceremony is the entire plot, details are transitional and the reception is the closer. Document every part and get a complete wedding story. Don’t worry, you’ll thank yourself later!

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Stay Fierce!

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I love Bertha. For those of you who don’t know me, Bertha is my car my — specifically, a silver 2009 Chevy Impala. Now, if you know me even a little bit, you know that I am a sentimental person. I have a box of cards containing every card I’ve ever received since I’ve been in America. I have journals packed with memories that I hang onto. I guess I have a hard time parting with things that invoke emotion. I didn’t start driving until my last year of college. I learned to drive with Bertha, and for seven years, Bertha has been my partner in ev.ery.thing (including building Sofi Seck Photography).

We’ve driven across America together, more than once. We’ve had exhilarating moments, exciting moments, and even sad and angry moments. Bertha has been an escape for me, in a way. When I need to be alone, I always knew I could count on Bertha. Sometimes I would just drive, with no destination. The music was off and I gave my mind some time to reset. I think everyone has a spot where they’re super comfortable, whether it’s their office, their bed, your favorite coffee shop. For me, Bertha represented that place.

I got Bertha when she was brand new. I’ve driven her so much over the years that she is breaking apart. Her paint is peeling in places. Yet, despite her shortcomings, I can’t seem to get rid of her. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve thought to myself that I need a new car. I’ve even gotten to the point where I would end up at a dealership. But then, instead, I blew the money I should have spent on a new car on fixing Bertha. The next week, she’s leaking oil. There is a new problem every other day. I know it probably isn’t safe to drive her, but I continue to.

When I look at Bertha, I think of all of the memories that this car has been there for. Though she’s not a person, she’s an extension of me in a way. Somehow, I have these strong emotions when I even think about getting rid of her. So, my mom being my mom and knowing this sentimentalism I have about me, bought me a new car for my 30th birthday. I am eternally grateful. I love it. It’s a A Silver 2016 Toyota Rav4, named Gertrude — Gerdie for short, of course.

So where I’m going with this is that we all have things we’re attached to, and that’s ok. Just because you can get rid of it, or because maybe you should get rid of it, doesn’t mean you have to. Sometimes it’s ok to hold onto things that make you happy.

I know that I need to let Bertha go, so we’ve been on our farewell tour. I’ve been driving her… every other day. Dammit. I still can’t get rid of her. The car will have to just completely die before I let her go. I know all of my friends are rolling their eyes, but I’m going to stick with Bertha for now. No apologies here.

#SorryNotSorry

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Self-Love.

This is a tough topic, but we’re going there.

I come from a country where a lot of women bleach their skin. It’s not as bad as it sounds in terms of “bleaching,” but it’s a thing. Women and girls use a cream that help lightens their skin tone. I say “they” and “their” because I was too intimidated to ever actually try bleaching my skin.  And while I’m not the darkest in my country, in a sea of people, I’m among the darker crowd.

Self-Consciousness Starts Young

There’s a stigma about being a darker dark, which seems insane. Lighter skin is considered more “desirable,” so I grew up thinking lighter skin was “better” skin. I grew up thinking that those women who were bleaching their skin wanted to be white. I grew up subconsciously thinking that everything stereotypical about people with light skin was better — their long blonde hair, their small frames, their light skin and thin lips.

I hated my skin color, but even more, I hated my lips. This might sound so trivial, but it was very real. When I started wearing makeup, I would do everything I could to draw attention to my eyes. Maybe if my eyes are gorgeous, they won’t notice my lips? They’re too big, too round, too… much. Basically, they weren’t like a white person’s lips.

Change in Attitude — Lip Love

Somehow, and I’m not even sure how, but I had this breakthrough. It really was revolutionary in my mind and in the way I thought about myself. There’s no wrong way to have lips! White lips aren’t “better.” People pay for full lips and here I am hating mine, so upset that I can’t minimize them.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I learned to love my lips in all their fullness. Now, each week on Instagram (sofiseckphotos), I upload a photo highlighting my gorgeous, full lips. Sometimes I’m wearing blue lipstick, or pink, black, white…whatever I’m feeling that day. I hashtag the images LipstickJunkie. I do love lipstick, a lot. But I realized that I’m not being honest about why I’m posting these photos.

The Real Reason

I’m sharing photos of my lips on Instagram because for such a long time I felt so insecure about this body part. Now, I want to celebrate my lips. It’s a reminder that there’s no such a thing as being undesirable. All you have to do is love yourself the way you are.

“I am not beautiful like you. I am beautiful like me.” (author unknown)

Love yourself the way you are. Try to be healthy, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Healthy doesn’t come in a size or a skin color, and definitely not in the size of your lips.

Remind Yourself to Love You

I would say I’m pretty confident, but this is something I constantly have to work on. I have to remind myself that there is no wrong way to be a woman. We all have that one thing we hate about ourself when we look in the mirror each day. Maybe it’s your bony nose, big forehead, rosy cheeks, not perfect teeth, freckles, veins, laugh lines… you think about it daily. But really, at the end of the day, we only need to make ourselves happy.

Loving yourself isn’t something you’re just going to wake up one day and do. It’s a decision and it’s a process. You have to look in that mirror and admit that you look good! And not just good, you look freakin’ great! As long as you are doing things that are healthy, you are fine. You’re beautiful. You are everything that is desirable in this world. And don’t you forget it!

“You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

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